Jamie Brandon is eager to build on his best performance since breaking into Hearts’ first team at the end of last season.
The 19-year-old right-back had an impressive debut in the 2-0 defeat away to Celtic on the last day of the last campaign and has gone on to make another seven competitive starts this season.
The most recent of those came in the 1-1 draw at home to Partick Thistle last Sunday when he produced a swashbuckling display to earn himself the man-of-the-match accolade. The confident Glaswegian wasn’t surprised by the standard of his performance and insists there is plenty more to come if he can command regular action in Craig Levein’s side.
“I think that was my best performance to date in a Hearts strip, so I need to keep trying to produce performances like that,” said Brandon. “I don’t know why I played so well – sometimes you just go out and have a really good game. I’ve been training hard, so hopefully that’s a sign it’s paying off.
“I only found out about an hour and 20 minutes before that I was starting. I’d actually been off ill for four days last week and I only came back in on the Friday. I was just expecting to be on the bench until the gaffer named the team and told me I was starting. He said it was an excellent performance. I knew I had a performance like that in my locker because I feel confident. I’ve been training with the first team and it’s a great standard so I’m just trying to take that into every game I play.”
Seven teenagers have appeared for Hearts in the Premiership this season – significantly more than any other club in the league – and none have featured more prominently than Brandon. He is thrilled by the progress he has made since joining Hearts 18 months ago following his release by Rangers.
“It’s been a really good season for me,” he said. “It’s been my first season properly with the first team and it’s been a great experience so far. It’s been a bit different because we’ve played so many games away from home and at Murrayfield but I’ve picked up a lot of things quite quickly and I’ve had a lot of people helping me – the experienced players like Aaron Hughes, Christophe Berra and Michael Smith have been a big help. The club have been great with me and I feel they have really helped me develop as a player. They’ve given me chances in the first team so there’s not much more I can ask for.”
Brandon is one of several specialist right-backs who have been required to fill in recently at left-back – an increasingly problematic position for Hearts. The teenager played there against St Johnstone and Hibs last month and endured a particularly difficult night in the defeat at Easter Road before being substituted in the 57th minute. “It was a bit harder playing left-back because positionally it’s a bit different to what I’m used to,” he explained. “I got caught out a couple of times in those games but I feel I’ve learned from that and it’ll help me if I need to play left-back going forward. I’d rather play right-back but if the gaffer needs me to play left-back, I’m always open to that.”
Brandon explained that there is a buzz among Hearts’ teenage fraternity as a result of the sheer number of them who are being given first-team exposure Levein. Brandon, Rory Currie, Harry Cochrane, Danny Baur, Aidan Keena, Euan Henderson and Lewis Moore have all been given game time this season, with several others knocking on the door.
“There’s a great atmosphere about the 20s squad at the moment because so many of the boys are coming through and getting a chance,” said Brandon. “I can see a bright future for the club. There are some great young players here so hopefully we can all keep kicking on and developing as players. I’m just glad the gaffer has faith in us and trusts us to go out and perform in games. There’s not much more you can ask for from the gaffer – he’s great for us.”
As well as commanding regular game time, Brandon is also targeting promotion to the first-team dressing-room at Riccarton. “I’m still in the 20s changing room and whenever I don’t play for the first team I play for the 20s to keep my game time up, which is good. But when you’re still in the 20s changing room, it reminds you you’ve still got a bit to go because the first-team changing room is where you want to be. The 20s changing room is really good, though – I’ve been with those boys for a year and a half, and it’s a really good laugh.
“Rory Currie was the last one who moved up to the first-team changing room. Everybody wants to get the move up. It’s a bigger changing room and it’s obviously better to get the move up. The main difference is probably that when you’re in the 20s dressing-room you’re still doing jobs. I clean Michael Smith’s boots.”